Microsoft, as reported earlier this week, was, indeed, part of a consortium bidding for 6,000 or so Nortel telecommunications patents being auctioned as part of Nortel's bankruptcy process. And that consortium -- which also included Apple, Ericsson, RIM, Sony and EMC -- outbid Google for them.
As was the case with Novell's patents, Microsoft kept its role in the Nortel bidding process a secret as long as it could. When I asked earlier in the week whether Microsoft was part of a group bidding on Nortel's patents, I was told Microsoft had no comment. Microsoft officials said earlier this year that they felt no need to bid on the patents because of a sweeping patent deal they had signed with Nortel, announced in 2007, that would hold regardless of who purchased the patents. The consortium is paying $4.5 billion in cash for the Nortel patents, of which Ericsson's contribution is $340 million, the Wall Street Journal said on June 30. A Reuters report earlier this year said Google was willing to pay $900 million for the Nortel patent portfolio.
Florian Mueller, an intellectual property analyst and blogger, said he found it surprising Google didn't outbid everyone else, especially in light of its recent patent issues around Android.
"No major industry player is as needy in terms of patents as Google. There are already 45 patent infringement lawsuits surrounding Android and makers of Android-based devices have to pay royalties to dozens of right holders. Just this week Microsoft announced that three more Android device makers, in addition to HTC, are already paying royalties on Google's Android to Microsoft," he said.
Mueller acknowledged that merely by purchasing Nortel's patent portfolio, Google couldn't have solved all of Android's patent issues in one fell swoop.
However, Mueller said he believed that "Google lost an unprecedented opportunity to acquire a major bargaining chip that would strengthen it at the mobile industry's intellectual property negotiating table. I'm afraid it won't get a similar opportunity in quantitative and qualitative terms anytime soon. It will have to continue to buy up smaller quantities of patents from failed startups and similar kinds of sellers. Those entities typically don't sell patents that read on a technology as essential as LTE [Long-Term Evolution communications standard]."
I've asked Microsoft for more information as to why it decided to bid on the Nortel patents. Was it simply to keep them out of Google's hands? No word back yet, but I'll update this post if and when I receive word.
Update: "Microsoft is not commenting," a spokesperson said.